A guest post by Dennis Patrick Slattery
Dr. Slattery's hometown of New Braunfels, Texas is experiencing drought like so many other cities around the world. Below is his commentary to community members who caution "too much development".
While many “Letters to the Editor” of the Herald-Zeitung (New Braunfels, Texas) express a valid caution of too much development, given the immediate and longer range necessity of conserving water in Texas, they have failed to touch the deeper question: what myth is it that compels the engines of growth? Until the underlying myth that shapes the thinking of what a people value is addressed, the problem stays above ground and tends to draw to itself ways of fixing something. Fixing as solution is also a mythic structure, but it too is a limited patch work.
The language of: Growth, development, expansion, bigger, more, enlargement, Manifest-Destiny are all terms highlighting the same value. If then myths, both personal and collective, are mediums of value, then they can also direct us to what is not valued and best dropped into the wastebasket of forgetting. As responsible citizens, we have to be continually vigilant in order to designate and acknowledge who it is that makes such critical determinations. For what we are asked or persuaded to dis-remember is as powerful a force to a people’s mythology as is what we are told or forced to remember. Development, increase, expansion, enlargement have been core elements of America’s values since its inception. History reveals that much has been done constructively and destructively to satisfy the appetites of these values. What we do as individuals and as a culture to enact, so to more firmly remember, the myths we hold closest to our identity, become evident in the form of rituals. Rituals embody, incarnate and bequeath integrity to what we believe to be true and necessary for our own identity, respect and growth.
But myths, like anything else that is organic, wear out, break down and eventually expose an expired shelf-life date. If the myths we hold sacred prove no longer operative, constructive, helpful or that at times, given changing circumstances, require moderation, revisiting or revisioning, they will undergo change only if they are truly vibrant and organic; but if they have instead calcified into some brittle form of dogmatic assertion or absolute truth to the exclusion of any other options or possibilities that are more in tune with the current realities surrounding us, then the myth is closer to the condition of a cadaver than a living value.
Looking, then, below the surface of changes we wish to make as a community, such as further growth, inviting others into the state or region because of a lower tax base, so that we see the myth driving such expansion is not only a reasonable but a moral act. Denying the mythic reality resting below the literal reality of this or that policy or public action, like signing off on an increasing number of developers’ permits is both naïve and harmful to the body politic’s survival.
Dr. Dennis Patrick Slattery is core faculty in the Mythological Studies program. His areas of emphasis include the poetic imagination, writing and reading as mythic activities, the relation of psyche, spirit and matter, and the place of contemplation within the academic setting. Learn more about Dr. Slattery and the Mythological Studies program at Pacifica.